Garaj Mahal – Woot – Owl Studios

by | Aug 5, 2008 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Garaj Mahal – Woot – Owl Studios Owl00125, 70:15 *****:

(Kai Eckhardt – bass; Fareed Haque – guitars; Alan Hertz – drums; Eric Levy – Keyboards + guests)

Two things make this band stand out: the genius and versatility of Chicago-based guitarist Fareed Haque, and the cohesiveness of vision of his bandmates.  It’s not that Haque is the leader—if there is one, it’s probably bassist Kai Eckhardt; he has a plurality of original songs, his name appears first on the credits, and he has performed more widely and extensively than any of the others.  It’s just that Haque frames the world-jazz/fusion textures with an incredible variety of guitar stylings, guiding the group into musical directions that perfectly reveal the heart of the compositions’ intentions.  

Take his work on drummer Hertz’s “Corner Peace,” my favorite number.  Displaying astounding chops perfectly integrated into the dreamy yet edgy Eastern/jazz vibe the band evokes, he provides provocative atmospherics, apposite comping, and spectacular soloing as needed.  The result is one of the more stimulating exercises in world/jazz/funk.  Levy on acoustic piano maintains and extends the mood with some very tasty playing while Haque provides mind-blowing fills and Hertz beats his kit into submission.  The wacky mood continues with the somewhat more in-your-face and up-tempo approach of “Ishmael and Isaac,” a putatively Arab/Israeli meditation that quickly devolves in a musical analogue of the modern chaos of these groups’ increasingly problematic interrelations highlighted by keyboardist Eric Levy’s manic musings.  Though not my favorite number, it brilliantly displays the group’s take-no-prisoners aesthetic.

The craziness continues unabated with “Uptown Tippitinas,” urban blooze-drenched-meets-funkified-world jam-band weirdness.  This is the music Medeski, Martin and Wood would make if they had the catholic world-jazz perspective of Garaj Mahal.  But they don’t:  no one does, save this unique musical amalgam.

“Jamie’s Jam,” the closer, neatly sums up the proceedings with a snapshot of what the band does best: provide intriguing musical canvases replete with haunting atmospherics, grand gestures, and solid hook-laden melodic snatches wrapped in mysterioso/virtuoso meditations.  Carving out a permanent place in an increasing important sub-genre, Garaj Mahal are eminently worth hearing.

TrackList: Semos, Hotel, Pundit-Ji, Bass Solo, 7 Cows Jumping over the Moon, Corner Peace, Ishmael and Isaac, Uptown Tippitinas, Jamie’s Jam

– Jan P. Dennis

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